The Palestinian Issue Is Absent From the 2021 Israeli Elections
Even before the elections to the current Knesset, we made it clear to the electorate at every opportunity that we prefer a Jewish state, even if not in all parts of Israel, over a bi-national state that would be established if 2.2 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank were annexed. We had to choose between Greater Israel, which means a bi-national state, and its current population composition will be 5.4 million Jews and more than three million Palestinians.
These words were spoken by the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on October 5, 1995, in his last speech in the Knesset before his assassination one month later. Since then, almost nothing has changed in the status quo between the State of Israel and the Palestinians.
Despite the Palestinian Authority’s control of Areas A and B, which constitute 40% of the West Bank, in practice the State of Israel is still the sovereign of the territory. Yet while in 1995 there were roughly 5.4 million Jews and 3 million Arabs living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, as of 2021, there are about seven million Jews and seven million Arabs living in that territory.
While the Iranian nuclear program is undoubtedly a primary existential threat to the State of Israel, the current situation in which the Palestinians have not yet fulfilled their national aspiration in the form of establishing a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel poses an even greater existential threat to the Jewish state.
But while the Iranian theme is often mentioned by the various candidates in the current election campaign, the Palestinian issue is absent from the current political discourse, and has been forgotten in the 2021 elections.
The heads of the Israeli political system have not always been afraid to speak out publicly about their future vision of dealing with the demographic threat in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
During the 1992 election campaign, Labor Party chairman Yitzhak Rabin was not afraid to express himself about the importance of reaching a solution with the Palestinians, and conducting separation between the two peoples. In the 2006 election campaign, Kadima chairman Ehud Olmert stood before the Israeli public and promised to implement the Convergence Plan, in which the State of Israel would make a unilateral move in the West Bank to ensure the future of the state as a Jewish and democratic country.
Today, however, the silence from Israeli politicians is not only worrying, but even shameful.
The painful fact is that in the 2021 elections, no party or prime ministerial candidate representing the mainstream of the Israeli public has addressed the conflict at all, and has not offered a way to secure the future of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. In fact, so far during the 2021 election campaign, it hasn’t even been possible to hear the vision of Netanyahu, Lapid or Sa’ar regarding the future of the West Bank, and how each of them will ensure the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with a solid Jewish majority.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis caused by it, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still one of the most important challenges for the future of the Jewish state.
While it is only a matter of time before the Israeli public feels the positive impact of the vaccines, in order to overcome the demographic threat posed to us by the conflict with the Palestinians, a clear strategy is needed. Yet all of the major political candidates in Israel have been silent.
There are still a few weeks left for the candidates to explain to the Israeli public how they intend to face this significant challenge to the State of Israel. I sincerely hope that at least one of them will do so.
Ori Wertman is a PhD candidate and research assistant at University of South Wales, UK, and an Adjunct Researcher at the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, Israel.